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Eduardo Gudynas
More than thirty years ago, the Brazilian economist Celso Furtado warned that
development was a myth that focused on abstract objectives such as investment,
exports and growth. Tese same goals are heard today in Latin America from the
most varied political camps, making it clear that the question of development is
still an open one. Furtado added that economic development, understood as the
idea that the poor may one day enjoy the same lifestyles as those who are rich
today is simply unrealisable (Furtado, 1975). Tis idea has been used, Furtado
goes on to say, to mobilise the peoples of the periphery and convince them to
accept enormous sacrifces, to legitimise the destruction of ancient cultures, to
explain and make people understand the need to destroy the environment, and to
justify forms of dependence that reinforce the predatory nature of the system of
production. Tis dimension of the problem of development persists at the start
of the 21
Tese and other warnings show that the concept of development, its means and
its ends, has been under discussion in Latin America for some time. Tis essay
aims to contribute to that discussion, and reviews some of the main schools of
thought in which the problem of development and alternatives to it have been
addressed. Te aim is not to analyse all the positions exhaustively, but to examine
those that seem to have been the most infuential in Latin America, especially
when they involve the exploration of alternatives. It is also a heterodox review, as
it delves into the ideological underpinnings of development.
Construct|ng the |dea of deve|opment
Te usual meanings of the word development point to advances and progress
in the economic and social sphere. Tus, among several meanings, the Oxford
dictionary defnes development as growing larger, fuller or more mature,
making something active or visible, or as a process such as urbanisation. Te
Royal Spanish Academy dictionary presents development as an economic term,
understood as the progressive evolution of an economy toward higher standards
of living, while when it is used to refer to people it is defned as progress, well-
being, modernisation, and economic, social, cultural or political growth. Te
word comes from other felds, and was ofen used in biology, for example, to
refer to the stages of growth and maturity of a living being. In the social sciences
Debates on deve|opment and |ts a|ternat|ves |n
Lat|n Amer|ca: a br|ef heterodox gu|de
and politics, development alludes to a wide range of academic and practical
matters; there are even agencies that include the word in their name (like the
Inter-American Development Bank - IDB).
Te conventional meaning of development, and the so-called development
economics in particular, gained currency immediately afer the Second World
War. Ideas were outlined, backed by economic theory, and presented as practical
responses to challenges such as poverty and wealth distribution. A division
was established between developed countries and underdeveloped nations
(including Latin America). Te speech made by President Harry Truman on 20
January 1949, in which he said that the underdeveloped countries of the South
should follow in the footsteps of the industrialised nations, is ofen cited as a
prime example of how this model was established (Esteva, 1992). Tus, the idea
of development became tied to economic growth and, consequently, the issue
of human well-being was lef in a subordinate position, since it was felt that
inequality and poverty would be solved essentially by economic means. Tese
ideas in turn harked back to the work of thinkers such as Michal Kalecki, John
Maynard Keynes and Nicholas Kaldor, who defended the vision of progress. Since
the attachment to progress and modernity was already evident in Latin America
since the 19
century, development ideas were easily slotted in place to represent
a supposed economic and social evolution.
By the mid-20
century, development concepts had become almost
indistinguishable from those of economic growth, and the two terms were used
interchangeably in more than one key work (Lewis, 1976, for example). Growth
was said to take place in a series of stages, as described by Rostow (1961), whereby
the backward countries ought to be inspired by the advanced economies and
follow their example. For these authors, the key issue was economic growth
rather than income distribution, and this type of thinking led to a hardening of
the insistence on resorting to indicators such as Gross Domestic Product, turning
it into a target in itself.
Tus, by the mid-20
century, the idea of development that had become
consolidated was one of a linear process of essentially economic evolution,
brought about by making use of natural resources, guided by diferent versions of
economic efciency and proftability, and aimed at emulating the western lifestyle
(Bustelo, 1998; Unceta, 2009).
Ear|y warn|ngs and the dependency cr|t|que
Shortly afer these ideas about development became widespread, the frst critiques
started to appear. In the setting of the United Nations, Te United Nations
Development Decade: Proposals for Action (1962) insisted on separating
development from growth and the qualitative from the quantitative aspects,
broadening the concept to include social and cultural matters rather than solely
economic ones.
In the academic setting, several critical studies were produced between 1965
and 1969. E.J. Mishan published his classic analysis that drew attention to the
spillover efects of economic growth, such as the increase in urbanisation,
migration and the number of vehicles on the road (Mishan, 1983). Ten came
other warnings, such as those of Galbraith (1992) on afuence and Hirschs (1976)
acknowledgement of the social limits to growth.
Tese frst alerts reached Latin America, although the regions attention was
focused more on the debates initiated by Ral Prebisch. His position, known as
structuralism, placed emphasis on the heterogeneous structure of Latin Americas
economies, in which more advanced sectors coexisted alongside others that were
backward and subsistence-based. Tese economies specialised in exporting
just a few primary commodities, although they had some modern enclaves.
Tis had given rise to asymmetrical relations between a centre, occupied by the
industrialised countries, and a periphery comprised of the developing countries
(Rodrguez, 2006). Tis theory was very infuential and explains, for example,
the substitution strategies that sought to replace imports by means of domestic
industrial production. It also introduced a much-needed international view of
In the years that followed, further steps were taken with what became known
as dependency theory. In this case, the starting point was the insight that
underdevelopment is not a phase that precedes development, but rather its
consequence and, to a great extent, the result of colonialism and imperialism.
Capitalism, including the asymmetries in international trade, was the explanation
for this unequal situation, and in fact it acted as a brake on progress. Dependency
theory branched out into several variations (Bustelo, 1998), depending on how
international conditionalities or the role of local historical-political contexts were
interpreted (exemplifed, among others, by Gunder Frank, 1970; Furtado, 1964;
Cardoso and Faletto, 1969). While conventional development economics did not
adequately take into account historical situations or power relations, dependency
theory brought them into the foreground.
Although all these heterodox positions strongly criticized the onward march
of development, they nonetheless repeated some of its basic ideas, such as the
importance of economic growth as the expression of material progress. In general,
they assigned a major role to industrialisation and called for greater efciency
in the exploitation of natural resources. Te debates centred on questions
such as how the supposed benefts were to be distributed, the asymmetries
in international relations between countries, ownership of the means of
production, etc. What was not up for discussion were the ideas of advancement,
backwardness, modernisation or progress, or the need to take advantage
of Latin Americas ecological wealth to feed that economic growth. Tis is why
alternative development proposals kept economic progress at their core, and the
debates focused on the best means to achieve such progress.
Eco|ogy and the ||m|ts to growth
At more or less the same time as the debates about dependency were going
on, environmental warnings began to be sounded, growing louder with the
presentation of the 1972 report Te Limits to Growth (Meadows et al., 1972),
commissioned by the Club of Rome think tank from the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT). Tis was not an evaluation of the state of the environment.
Instead, its objective was to analyse global growth trends (world population,
industrialisation, food production and the exploitation of natural resources).
Te report questioned the key idea of development as perpetual growth. By
modelling the trends, it found that the limits to growth on this planet will be
reached sometime within the next one hundred years, and the most probable
result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population
and industrial capacity (ibid. 1972). Te report was almost aseptic. It did not
go into geopolitical matters but did make it quite clear that the trends in terms
of population increase, accelerating industrialisation and pollution, and resource
depletion, would come up against the planets limits. Perpetual economic growth
was impossible.
At the time, these conclusions had a huge impact. One of the pillars of
conventional development economics was under assault, and the report was
therefore attacked from all sides, both lef and right. It was variously accused
of being neo-Malthusian, of denying the role of science and technology in
generating alternatives to exhausted resources or dealing with the impacts of
their depletion, and of being a simple manifestation of bourgeois or imperialist
Many Latin American intellectuals on the lef felt challenged by Te Limits to
Growth report. In their view, it was attacking aspects that they considered to be
positive, such as modernisation, the use of Latin Americas ecological wealth, and
the very idea of growth.
Several of them organised a response, which was presented as an alternative
model. Catastrophe or New Society? A Latin American World Model, coordinated
from the Bariloche Foundation under the leadership of Amlcar O. Herrera, was
published in Spanish in 1975. It is a forward-looking and prescriptive model,
which maintains that the problems are not physical but sociopolitical, and based
on the unequal distribution of power, both internationally and within countries.
As a solution, it proposes a fundamentally socialist society, based on equality
and the full participation of all human beings in societys decisions, in which
the consumption of material goods and economic growth would be regulated to
make them compatible with the environment (Herrera, 1975).
Tis model ofers some advances, such as rejecting the development pattern
pursued by the rich countries, although it leaves environmental preservation
until a later stage, once an acceptable standard of living has been achieved for all.
It also proposes some questionable alternatives, however, such as the widespread
use of nuclear energy or giving vast areas of wilderness over to agriculture,
without considering the serious impact this would have on biodiversity. Te
report defends economic growth by other means, and believes that technological
solutions can be found to deal with its negative impacts.
Te case of this alternative Latin American model should be borne in mind,
because some elements of this perspective reappeared years later in the policies
of certain progressive governments.
Deconstruct|on, nuances and d|vers|cat|on
Parallel with the debates on the ecological limits of economic growth, other
critical approaches attempted to reformulate the economic and social aspects of
development. One text that can be highlighted in this set of approaches is the
Cocoyoc Declaration, led by Barbara Ward (UNEP/UNCTAD, 1974), which
insists that there is a diversity of routes to development, and that its purpose
is to improve wealth distribution and ensure that basic needs are met. Along
the same lines, the proposal for another development (1975), put forward by
Swedens Dag Hammarskjld Foundation, insisted on separating development
from growth, arguing that the aim was to eradicate poverty and ensure that
needs are met. Additional attributes of this other development were said to be
endogeneity (it is defned within each society) and self-reliance. Discussions like
these, which were non-conformist to start with, were later accepted and fed into
the launch of the Human Development Index in 1990. In its frst version, this
took its inspiration from Amartya Sens work on capabilities, where well-being
should focus particularly on peoples potential and ability to do something.
Tese positions were infuential in Latin America, and subsequently built upon.
Te most important contribution was the concept of human scale development,
popularised by the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef. Tis is based on three
key propositions: development should focus on people rather than objects, the
means to satisfy needs can be identifed, and poverty is a plural concept that
depends on unmet needs (Max-Neef et al., 1993).
Other analysts in the 1980s chose to rethink development from the point of
view of self-reliance, which implies drawing on local capabilities and resources,
following Johan Galtung (1985). With this notion of self-reliance, positive results
should be taken advantage of locally, and the transfer of negative externalities
should be prevented. Some of these aspects reappear under the term endogenous
development, although this school of thought has had only a limited infuence
in Latin America (seen today, for example, in the take-up of small-scale farming
practices by the COMPAS Network). Te label has also been applied generically
by the government of Hugo Chvez, and in the promotion of local food markets,
for example.
Finally, it is necessary to bear in mind that since the end of the 1990s the
questions posed by the feld of ecological economics have gained currency. Tis is
a broad and diverse school of thought, from where successive critiques have been
launched at the obsession with economic growth. Te economist Herman Daly
was an important protagonist in these debates, and many of his texts circulated in
Spanish (Daly and Cobb, 1993).
The emergence and d|vers|cat|on of susta|nab|e deve|opment
As the 1970s debate on the environment and development continued to evolve,
the frst versions of the concept of sustainable development appeared at the
beginning of the 1980s.
Te term sustainable came from population biology, and is understood as the
possibility of extracting or harvesting renewable resources provided that this is
done without exceeding their renewal and reproduction rates. Such extraction
should also be directly aimed at meeting human needs and ensuring quality of life
goals that difer from simple growth. An approach of this sort appeared in 1980
in the frst World Conservation Strategy (IUCN, UNEP and WWF, 1981). Tis
report maintains that it is not possible to include the environmental dimension
in the conceptual framework of conventional development, and it is therefore
necessary to redefne the essence of the concept.
A next step was taken with the World Commission on Environment and
Development (WCED), convened by the United Nations. Its fnal report, Our
Common Future, ofers what is possibly the most quoted defnition of sustainable
development. Although it is almost always cited as a commitment to future
generations, the complete text is longer and more complex (WCED, 1988), and
should be analysed.
In the frst place, in common with some other alternative proposals made at the
time, it calls for development to be aimed at meeting human needs, and extends
this to a commitment to future generations. Secondly, it admits the existence
of limits, and thus comes closer to the line of thinking started by the Club of
Rome report, but then goes on to diferentiate between those that are rigid (the
limits inherent in ecosystems, for example), and others that are fexible because
they depend on human beings themselves (in the case of technologies or the
organisation of society). Finally, the defnition closes with a conciliatory U-turn:
sustainable development must be aimed at economic growth. Tus, the old
contradistinction between growth and conservation, the environment and the
economy, disappears. It is once again argued that development implies economic
growth, and the conservation of natural resources becomes a necessary condition
for achieving it. What were previously opposites now turn out to be mutually
Te way in which sustainability is conceptualised in this report is polysemic:
various meanings are ofered which, if taken on their own, lead to very diferent
development stances. Tis is why it has been argued that the reports defnition is
contradictory in its own terms, but it is not an oxymoron in the strict sense, since
the important thing is how the components connect together in the defnition
as a whole. Tere is an internal logic in the WCED, beginning with its particular
understanding of the limits, and the components can be linked together. Te
same logic would be evinced a few years later with the Latin American version of
this same report, Our Own Agenda (CDMAALC, 1990).
In any case, this reduction of sustainability to economic factors was resisted on
several fronts. Te second World Conservation Strategy, for example, produced
in 1991, addressed the limitations of the Brundtland report unambiguously. It
warns that sustainable growth is a contradiction in terms: nothing physical can
grow indefnitely. In response, this report ofers a new defnition of sustainability
which is shorter and has a more precise ecological meaning improving the
quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting
ecosystems and advances substantively on other fronts, particularly in its call
for changes in ethics (IUCN, UNEP and WWF, 1991).
Beyond this debate, the multiple meanings of sustainable development allowed
it to be used in many diferent ways, from publicity campaigns to denunciations
of capitalism. So successful was it that the word sustainability broke away from
its roots in ecology and became tinged with a developmentalist gloss. Nowadays,
we see it being used in bizarre ways, such as social sustainability or sustained
economic growth.
Retreats and res|stances
At the end of the 1980s, the collapse of real socialism in Eastern Europe led to
the options previously spoken of as alternatives becoming discredited. At the same
time, neoliberal and neoconservative policies were starting to become consolidated
in Latin America. Tese are the years when market reforms, the Washington
Consensus and the drive to privatise came to prominence, and the range of possible
alternatives shrank accordingly. Tese ideas circulated throughout the continent,
with the support of local elites and the adherence of academic institutions. Te
discussion about development was becoming meaningless, as it was assumed that
the market would more or less spontaneously generate development; planning
and intervention were seen as pointless as well as dangerous.
Te impact of neoliberalism was so strong that even heterodox approaches
had to adjust and adapt to it. One example was the proposal for Productive
Transformation with Equity (PTE) put forward by the Economic Commission
for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) at the start of the 1990s. PTE is
part of the neostructuralism which, based on a review of Prebischs ideas, defends
the role of the state and rejects hardline neoliberalism. It calls for fexibility in
fscal and monetary policies, sees competitiveness as a systemic process, reiterates
the importance of industrialisation, and pursues involvement in export markets.
But a more careful examination of PTE reveals that it nevertheless still focuses on
promoting growth. Although it resists neoliberal fundamentalism, it also supports
the expansion of the market into social and environmental spheres (defending
Natural Capital and Social Capital). Furthermore, it is a position supportive
of globalisation (under the proposal of open regionalism), as it ignores or
minimises the importance of the social and political contexts of development
(thus breaking with one of the key messages of dependency theory). It is above
all a technocratic stance rather than a development alternative, and supports
regulated and globalised growth.
In those same years, however, other positions managed to maintain alternative
viewpoints. Tree cases that difer from each other but all refect that vitality
should be mentioned. We will start with the critique of development from a
feminist perspective.
In the Latin American setting, diferent contributions have
focused on acknowledging the importance of the role played by women in national
economies, but not all of them involved a critical review of development. Te
standpoints that questioned the male-centred bias, on the other hand, revealed
the contributions made by women that had been lef invisible, particularly the care
economy and other aspects of the non-commercial economy (Carrasco, 2006). In
the case of ecofeminism, these led to a radical questioning of development (see
those inspired by Merchant, 1989).
Te regulation school, promoted initially by French economists, achieved some
infuence in Latin America, with the academic works and activism of Alain
Lipietz (1997), for example. Tis approach seeks to integrate analysis of political
economy with analysis of civil society and/or State to show how they interact
to normalize the capital relation and govern the confictual and crisis-mediated
course of capital accumulation, according to one of its proponents.
Starting in the late 1990s, debates on the dematerialisation of development
began to gain receptivity in Latin America. Te term is used in the sense of
substantially reducing the consumption of materials and energy, and redirecting
economies to meet human needs. Te best-known models, such as the so-called
Factor 10 or the Sustainable Europe proposals by the Wuppertal Climate
Institute in Germany, encouraged the work of civil society organisations and
some academics.
Several of these elements have been taken up again in the
current debates about post-extractivism in the Andean countries.
Turn to the |eft and contrad|ct|ons
Since 1999, a political retreat from the neoliberal market reforms has taken place
in Latin America. Te political expression of this has been the coming to power
of governments that defne themselves as lef-wing or progressive.
On the one
hand, this shif resulted from various processes including harsh criticisms and
reactions against neoliberal strategies, and, on the other, a broadening out of the
debates on development.
Tus, the wave of neoliberal reforms was halted and various regulations and
controls were introduced. Diferent processes to strengthen the state were
initiated, including a return to state-owned enterprises, and more energetic, more
extensive plans to combat poverty were implemented. Te context of the debate
on development changed substantially.
Te group of progressive governments is very diverse, however, and diferent
degrees of emphasis can therefore be found in the measures they have introduced,
ranging from the tight control of currency exchange and commodity trading
implemented in Venezuela, to the more economically orthodox policies taken
forward in Brazil or Uruguay.
In Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, criticism of capitalism in the broad sense
intensifed, and proposals for building a 21
century socialism emerged. Te
best-known theorists of 21
century socialism may include A. Born (2008), H.
Dieterich (1996) and J.C. Monedero (2008). Each in their own way set out very
detailed criticisms of capitalism in general and neoliberalism in particular. All aim
at regulating or limiting the role of capital, and assign substantial roles to the state.
But beyond these criticisms, their approaches sufer from various limitations, as
substantive discussions of issues such as the environment or interculturalism and
the inclusion of indigenous peoples are absent.
In other countries, by contrast, the situation is diferent. In Argentina, for example,
a type of national-popular development is gradually taking shape. Tis repeats
the call for growth and exports, though with a major leading role for the state,
which is understood to be at the service of the people. In the case of Brazil, novo
desenvolvimento (new developmentalism) is more moderate still: it proposes a
greater role for the state, but clarifes that this must not hamper the workings of
the market; it rejects neoliberalism, but also sets itself apart from what it calls the
old populist lef; and fnally, in all sincerity, it declares itself to be liberal (Bresser
Pereira, 2007).
Tese theoretical approaches are very diverse in both countries, but in the context
of our analysis here what should be underlined is that they do not question
the rationality of development as growth, the role of exports or investment, or
intervention to make use of Nature. Likewise, social questions - such as poverty -
are dealt with, but there is no intercultural approach. In general, what is earnestly
discussed is the means to bring about the desired progress, the role of the state
in this (whether by regulation or by direct involvement through state enterprises,
for example), and how to distribute the surplus revenue. Tis descends into
functional strategies and a certain type of populism, albeit re-conceptualised in a
positive and mobilising sense, where relations with the business community vary
(widespread support in Brazil, but conditional support in Argentina).
When it comes to the actual practices of the progressive governments, and their
plans of action, the situation becomes still more complicated. Some have stuck to
macroeconomic orthodoxy (the Lula da Silva and Tabar Vzquez administrations,
for example), and others are attempting larger-scale interventions, as in the case
of Venezuela. But all of them defend economic growth as synonymous with
development, and believe that it will be achieved by increasing exports and
maximizing investment. Tese are precisely the key components of the myth
of development highlighted in Celso Furtados warning. Te same idea of
development that was circulating in the 1960s and 1970s has reappeared in new
Tis explains the progressive governments strong support for the extractive
industries, including mining or oil and gas, as these are the means to achieve
this export-led growth. Tis has given rise to a progressive neoextractivism
(Gudynas, 2009b), which does difer signifcantly from the previous conservative
government strategies - based on the primacy of transnational corporations and
the subordination of the state -but nevertheless perpetuates the appropriation of
Nature on a massive scale, the enclave economies and subordinated involvement
in global markets. Te progressive governments award the state a major role in
these sectors, either through national enterprises or through higher taxes and
royalties; and they present the collection of this revenue as an essential means
to fnance their social welfare and poverty reduction plans. Tus, progressive
extractivism forges a new type of link, which promotes and legitimises mining or
oil industry projects as necessary to sustain welfare benefts or cash payments to
the poorest sectors of society.
Te extractivist drive is so intense that the Correa administration, for example, is
looking to launch opencast mega-mining in Ecuador, while in Uruguay, a country
traditionally based on agriculture and livestock farming, President Mujica is
arguing for the start of iron ore mega-mining as one of his main goals.
In particular, however, all these governments are in denial about the social and
environmental impacts of extractivism. Since there are no efective responses,
the protests due to social and environmental impacts are intensifying. One
recent example is the protest by indigenous people against the building of a road
through the middle of the Isoboro Scure Indigenous Territory and National
Park (TIPNIS) in Bolivia. Tis was brushed of by the Evo Morales government,
which argued that mining and the oil industry need to be promoted so that social
welfare benefts can be funded.
Under neoextractivism, the debates about development have been signifcantly
reconfgured. While in the past the enclave economies were associated with trade
dependency and transnationalisation, they are now defended as export success-
stories; while in previous years there were calls to abandon extractivism and
promote national industrialisation, today the record highs in raw materials exports
are celebrated. Subordination to transnational companies and globalisation in the
area of trade and, with it, world governance as a whole, has ceased to be an object
of criticism and is now accepted. Although extractivism veers away from social
justice because of its high social and environmental impacts, the governments
of the lef are attempting to return to it though wealth distribution measures,
especially beneft payments. But essentially this is an economic justice that is very
manipulative, and looks a lot like charity and benevolence.
Environmental impacts are minimised or denied, and attempts are made to damp
down citizen protests. Again and again, we hear the myth of the region replete
with immense wealth without environmental limits that must not be wasted,
but rather taken advantage of intensively and efciently.
Tis leads to a curious situation, where the progressive development alternative
is undoubtedly a shif away from free-market reductionism, but is also
conventional with regard to many of the classical development ideas. To some
extent, with its appeal to national development, it is similar to the traditional
plans of the 1960s, though without the emphasis on national industries and
import substitution. Te measures to combat poverty are more energetic, but the
system is open to imports of consumer goods, and the conventional procedures
for the exploitation and commercialisation of natural resources are maintained.
Tese and other factors mean that it is no longer possible to question either the
investment goals or the export targets, and the only thing that can be discussed
is how the states surplus revenue is to be spent. Te Uruguayan president, Jos
Mujica, expresses this clearly: We need investment from abroad; there should
be no controversy about this because foreign capital is indispensable, and later,
when we have the benefts of that investment, the taxes it pays and the profts,
we can discuss whether we are spending them well or badly yes, of course we
can discuss that.
Tis is a style of development that accepts the conditions of todays capitalism,
whereby the state has to reduce or compensate for some of its negative facets. Tis
is a benevolent capitalism that aims above all to tackle poverty and inequality
through corrections and compensation (Gudynas, 2010a).
Tis situation is starting to show cracks, as the social and environmental impacts
of these strategies pile up and the efectiveness of the economic compensation is
wearing thin. Tis is redoubling the importance of debates about the essence of
development, and explains the recent attention to more independent and critical
views of the progressive governments performance.
A pers|stent debate, |nterm|ttent d|a|ogue and co-opt|on
Te examples ofered here show that development debates, criticisms and
alternatives have a long history, and Latin Americans have ofen been closely
involved in them. Te debates can be roughly divided into two groups: on one
side, the discussions internal to the disciplines that focus on development, and on
the other, the criticisms from the outside. Te former include, for example, the
debates between neoclassicists and Marxists, or between those who defended the
market and those who called for state involvement to channel development. Many
of the harshest criticisms, though, have come from outside from disciplines or
actors who are not development economists, as in the case of the warnings on the
social and environmental limits of development.
In any case, these debates tended to take place in stagnant compartments; the
development economists were not much inclined to listen to other disciplines.
In contrast, the sociologists, anthropologists, environmentalists, etc., redoubled
their interest in development matters, and were joined by diferent civil society
organisations. Te debates proliferated for a time, reaching a high level of intensity,
but then declined again, only to reappear in other terms years later.
At the same time, the promises of development have generally not been fulflled.
Government projects seldom bore fruit, and the plans of institutions such as the
World Bank or the IDB were not successful either; it was common for all of them
to experience setbacks and produce social and environmental impacts. Hundreds
of cases, studies and denunciations of this problem have accumulated, making it
clear that what has prevailed in these decades is maldevelopment (in the sense
described by Tortosa, 2011).
Tus, development is still a dream that is longed for but also resisted: an idea that
gets deployed, is then criticised and questioned, adapts itself, reconfgures in a
new version that is presented as better than before, and once again gets mired in
crisis shortly aferwards.
Te death of development has been announced repeatedly since the 1980s. In the
infuential Development Dictionary, Wolfgang Sachs (1992) declared that the age
of development was coming to an end and it was time to issue its death certifcate;
Gustavo Esteva (1992) went further, calling for the whole idea to be abandoned.
Troughout the 1990s, it seemed that this was on the point of happening, not
just because of the criticisms coming from the lef, but also because the strong
anti-neoliberal stance was making the whole issue of development seem almost
But the idea of development is very resistant. Just as broad sectors of civil society
were criticizing it, there were others demanding access to development, or calling
for more development. Each new developmentalist vision with neoextractivism
being the most recent serves to keep that dream alive.
The |deo|ogy of progress
Tis remarkable endurance of the idea of development has been interpreted
in various ways, with some likening it to a myth or a religion (Rist, 2006). In
this essay, in contrast, I argue that, at least on the basis of the evidence in Latin
America, it is more appropriate to refer to the idea of ideology. In fact, current
development ideas may even be seen as the contemporary expression of the
ideology of progress.
Te concept of ideology is understood here in a relational sense as providing a
basis for organising the beliefs, subjectivities and values of individuals, and thus
producing and reproducing a certain social order in its multiple dimensions,
from the individual to the institutional (Eagleton, 1991). Tis ideological basis
explains the irrational and emotional attachment to the idea of development,
with warnings or contradictions constantly ignored or brushed of.
Te idea of progress has been present for centuries, and can be found behind
almost all the examples presented above (Nisbet, 1981; Burns, 1990). In Latin
America this is particularly evident in the environmental sphere. Diverse schools
of thought, from the dependency theorists and the Marxists of the 1960s and the
neoliberals of the 1980s, to the recent progressives, have rejected the existence
of ecological limits to perpetual growth, minimized environmental impacts or
believed that they can be compensated for economically, and see their mandate
as to foster progress.
When it is recognised that development has an ideological basis, it becomes clear
that the formulation of alternatives must put this up for discussion. Conventional
tools such as economic analysis can only operate on the surface, and fnd it
enormously difcult to drill down into the ideological substrata. It is therefore
necessary to deploy another type of critique.
The post-deve|opment cr|t|que
Tinking about the essence of development - including its ideological basis -
crystallised at the end of the 1980s, in the approach known as post-development.
Several Latin American scholars played an important role in shaping this
approach, but among the most important were Gustavo Esteva from Mexico
(1992) and Arturo Escobar from Colombia (1992, 2005).
Tis school of thought understood that development had spread until it became
a way of thinking and feeling. Its approach is post-structuralist in a Foucauldian
sense; in other words, it questions a discourse, including the organised ideas
and concepts, but also the institutional structures and practices. Terefore, post-
development does not ofer ideas for the next version of development; instead, the
prefx post is used in a way that follows the French post-structuralists (especially
Neither does it bear any relation to the economic structuralism of
Ral Prebisch, nor to Latin American neostructuralism.
Tis radical critique serves to examine the ideological foundations of
development, but it is not obliged to propose another development. Instead,
it enables questions to be posed where other schools of thought are not able to,
and thus opens the door to new types of alternatives. Tis approach enabled
a wide range of questions to be discussed, such as development goals, aid
programmes, development planning, the institutional structures that underpin
it (from university departments to the World Banks development assistance
programmes), the role of experts and specialists, the production of arguments
and forms of knowledge labelled as valid and objective, and the mechanisms used
to exclude other knowledge systems and sensibilities (Rahnema, 1997).
Tis means that it is necessary to distinguish between development alternatives
and alternatives to development. Te former refers to the diferent options
for rectifying, repairing or modifying contemporary development, whereby its
conceptual foundations such as perpetual growth or the appropriation of Nature
are accepted, and the discussion focuses on the best means to take the process
forward. With alternatives to development, in contrast, the aim is to produce
conceptual frameworks that are not based on those ideological foundations. Tis
implies exploring social, economic and political orders diferent to what we have
been calling development.
When post-developments deconstruction is applied, very strong tensions arise
with ideas that are usually taken for granted as valid or part of the common
sense of development. Tis means that there will be resistance to accepting post-
developments questioning in all its depth, and therefore in some cases it will be
used in its light variety (such as making use of the prefx post to refer to a
future version of development).
Neither is it a minor matter that post-development makes it possible to take forward
a critique of fundamental principles found not only in liberal and conservative
traditions but also in socialist (especially Marxist) ones. Tis is an important
aspect in todays Latin American context, especially because we currently have
several progressive governments, supported by broad sectors of society, that are
continuing to reproduce the ideology of progress. Classical socialist tradition
agrees with some of post-developments criticisms of capitalism, but diverges
from it in other areas, since it continues to believe in things such as the linearity
of history or the manipulation of Nature. It is true that certain revisions have been
made in this feld, but some of them introduce such substantial changes (as in the
case of some ecosocialisms) that it is necessary to ask whether the end result can
continue to be called socialism.
Tere are similarities between post-development and the school of thought
known as degrowth, in those cases where the latter is presented as a political
slogan to denounce development (Latouche, 2009). But the impact of degrowth
in Latin America is debatable.
Post-development does, however, turn out to have strong similarities with the
critiques put forward by some indigenous peoples, since their rationalities are not
embedded in the ideology of progress. Tese forms of knowledge in turn emerge
as ideal sources for building alternatives to development.
Tanks to this type of debate, it has been made clear that the development
alternatives being tried out are insufcient to solve todays social and
environmental problems on either a local or a global scale. Attempts to fnd
instrumentalist solutions and make adjustments within the ideology of progress
are considered insufcient, because they do not solve the underlying problems
and are merely partial, short-term corrective measures of doubtful efectiveness.
Terefore, in the Latin American context, the alternatives must necessarily be
alternatives to development.
The quest|on|ng of deve|opment as a cr|t|que of Modern|ty
Having marked out the feld of post-development, it is possible to take an
additional step. In fact, criticisms of development imply delving into the ideology
of development, and this in turn makes it obligatory to address the project of
Modernity. It is from there that the idea of progress emerged, and this in turn has
taken shape in development. Terefore, a pre-requisite for the exploration of any
alternative is to address the project of Modernity.
Here, we adopt a broad defnition of the modern condition, which starts from the
understanding that there is a model that needs to be universalised (thus dividing
cultures into modern and non-modern), and that this is represented by European
culture. It is a school of thought that adheres to a Cartesian knowledge system
(whereby what is true/false can be determined and other forms of knowledge
are excluded); its ethical stance restricts value to the human sphere, emphasises
diferent forms of utilitarianism, sees history as a temporally linear process of
progress from past conditions of backwardness to a better future and stresses
the duality that separates society from Nature.
Te elements that form the backbone of Modernity are present in all ideas of
development, including the Iberian strands that were also expounded and
built up in Latin America. Te thinking that characterised positivism and the
philosophy of Herbert Spencer or Auguste Comte, among others, was grafed
onto the top-down and authoritarian Iberian branch (Burns, 1990). Tese
amalgams had very dramatic efects in Latin America, especially in the 19

century, as the idea of progress and Eurocentric culture reinforced the inherited
colonial drive to appropriate vast areas of land to extract their resources, together
with the domination of indigenous peoples. At that time, the task of progress was
to civilise both the savages and the wilderness. Tese ideas are repeated even
today, when heads of government as diferent as Rafael Correa and Alan Garca
describe indigenous people in a similar way, as backward and a hindrance to
Tis Modernity was conceived both in continental Europe and in the Americas,
and was introduced in our continent under the conditions of colonialism. Tis
problem has been examined by the theories of coloniality of power and coloniality
of knowledge, which describe how certain ideas are imposed about what
constitutes society, history, knowledge and, concomitantly, development. Tis is
a process anchored in power relations, through which ways of understanding the
world are disseminated and structured. Tese are defended not just as superior,
but as the only ones that are valid, while others are excluded.
In this process,
the ideas of progress merged completely naturally with conventional economic
thinking, which then determined all Latin American perspectives.
Tus, to question development or the ideology of progress implies a critique
of Modernity itself (Escobar, 2005). Alternatives to development in their turn
must also be alternatives to western Modernity. One way forward along this
path is to take up marginal or subordinate schools of thought within the western
tradition itself. In the Latin American context, it is necessary to mention two
of these: radical biocentric environmentalism and critical feminism. Te frst
one recognises particular values in Nature itself, thus breaking with the modern
stance that considers Nature as merely a set of objects at the service of human
beings. Among its main proponents are the work of the Norwegian philosopher
Arne Nss (1985). Te second one refers to feminist postures that defends an
ethical alternative, as in the case of the care economy. Lastly, but not least, the
contribution of indigenous peoples is critical.
Te examples presented above correspond to cosmovisions that are diferent to
Eurocentric worldviews, and where concepts such as progress or development do
not exist. Te diversity of these other forms of knowledge is huge, and it is not
possible to review them all here, but it is necessary to bear them in mind.
A prov|s|ona| c|ass|cat|on
Having completed a journey that started from current debates about development,
then moved on to the ideology of progress and from there to Modernity, it is now
possible to arrive at a proposed classifcation of the Latin American debates. Te
criterion for dividing them up is heterodox, and is based on applying a critical
perspective of post-development (and superimposing others, such as degrowth
and decolonisation, for the purposes of this review).
In accordance with this criterion, on one side we fnd the alternatives that accept
the basic premises of development as the manifestation of progress, although
these include very diferent ideas about how that progress should be achieved.
Tese would be the development alternatives. On the other side are the proposals
that try to break with the commonly accepted ideas of development as growth or
progress, and thus argue for alternatives to development. Table 1 summarises
this classifcation.
Table 1: Provisional classifcation of development alternatives and alternatives to
Reference is made to the main schools of thought as outstanding examples
Aj Alternatives within the ideology of progress and modernity
Classical instrumentalist
Repairing negative effects (e.g. social-democratic
reformism, the third way"j, national-popular
development, new developmentalism, progressive
Alternatives that focus on
economic structures and
processes and the role of
Socialist alternatives, early structuralism, Marxist and
neomarxist approaches, dependency theory,
neostructuralism, various exponents of 21
Alternatives that focus on
the social dimension
Social limits to growth, decoupling development from
economics, emphasis on employment and poverty
Endogenous development, human development,
human scale development
Other economies (domestic, informal, smallholder,
indigenousj, liberal multiculturalism
Alternatives that react to
environmental impacts
Ecodevelopment, weak sustainability and some of
strong sustainability
Bj Alternatives that get beyond progress and modernity
Super-strong sustainability, biocentric approaches, deep ecology
Feminist critique, the care economy
Dematerialisation of the economy, degrowth (partlyj
lnterculturalism, pluralism, relational ontologies, expanded forms of citizenship
Buen vivir" (some proposalsj
Prepared by the author.
Te frst large set of development alternatives refect the debates taking place
between the main schools of contemporary thought, especially liberalism,
conservatism and socialism. Te alternatives, in this case, focus on questions such
as the role of the state in development, ways to intervene (or not) in the market,
ideas on justice, ways to tackle poverty, etc. Tese are not minor debates, but the
point we wish to underline here is that all of them in one way or another take
for granted that development is an essentially linear process, a form of progress
achieved by means of material accumulation. In other words, all of them remain
within the project of Modernity.
Te second set corresponds to the alternatives to development. Included here
are some of the frst attempts along these lines, one of the most important of
which was Ivan Illichs thinking from Mexico in the 1970s, exemplifed in the
proposal for conviviality.
Ten there are the radical environmentalist stances
that do not accept the permanent growth aspired to by neoclassical economics
and defend the values intrinsic to Nature. Tese include the so-called super-
strong sustainability,
and deep ecology, in the meaning outlined
by Nss (1989).
Tese components are argued for by some social movements,
and were included in Ecuadors new constitution, for example, under the heading
of the rights of Nature.
Other important contributions came from feminism which, among other things,
questioned the patriarchal order in society and warned that development strategies
were reproducing and consolidating its asymmetries and hierarchies (Saunders,
2002). Some of the proposals for dematerialising the economy (reducing its levels
of consumption of materials and energy) also fall into this category when they
are accompanied by changes in consumption patterns and lifestyles. Tis is a
more diverse set of proposals and includes some of the contributions made by
the degrowth movement, the environmental justice movement, etc. (Sachs and
Santarius, 2007).
Note that these positions distance themselves from the project of Modernity to
difering degrees (moderately in the case of degrowth and dematerialisation;
more clearly in the case of biocentrism). In any case they still have aspects in
common, such as arguing for another type of ethics that is neither instrumentalist
nor utilitarian, for example.
Finally, other proposals start by adopting some of the positions and cosmovisions
of indigenous peoples. Tis is not possible from a classical multiculturalist
standpoint, since the decolonial warnings mentioned above must be addressed,
and therefore an intercultural stance is called for.
Tese diferent approaches have led to the recognition that Modernity expresses
a particular type of ontology a way of being in and understanding the world
that clearly separates society from Nature and subordinates the latter in a
hierarchy that allows it to be manipulated and destroyed. Terefore, the most
recent schools of thought maintain that it is necessary to move away from
Eurocentric ontology to be able to build other alternatives. At the moment,
the interest here is in taking up what have come to be known as relational
ontologies, where the duality that characterises Modernity does not exist,
and elements of what is conventionally called Nature - such as agency, moral
status and political expression are explored. Social elements in turn come to
be located within the feld of what the western knowledge system terms the
environment (Blaser and de la Cadena, 2009). Relational ontologies of this sort
are found among several indigenous peoples in Latin America, and explain the
reasons why it is not possible to follow ideas analogous to progress based on
usurping Nature.
Tese and other contributions have recently been organised and coordinated
under the name of Buen Vivir (a Spanish word that refers to a good life based
on a social and ecological expanded vision), as an alternative to the idea of
development. Tis is a very vital school of thought, which has the advantage of
abandoning the use of the word development, and ofers enormous potential
for the future (Acosta, 2008; Gudynas, 2011b). It moves away from the classical
views of development as perpetual economic growth, linear progress, and
anthropocentric, to focus on peoples well-being in a broad sense that also includes
their emotions and beliefs. Te break with anthropocentrism makes it possible to
recognise values intrinsic to the environment, do away with the society/Nature
duality and reconfgure communities of political and moral agents.
Buen Vivir is an expression that owes a great deal to traditional forms of
knowledge, especially Andean ones. Its best-known points of reference are the
sumak kawsay of the Ecuadorian Kichwa and the suma qamaa of the Bolivian
Aymara. But it is not limited to these, and similar worldviews are found
among other indigenous peoples, while some were confgured only recently.
It also draws on the contributions made by the critical and non-conformist
traditions on the margins of Modernity, such as biocentric environmentalism
and feminism.
Te thing is that Buen Vivir can be reinterpreted as a political platform which is
arrived at from diferent traditions and a diversity of specifc positions; where the
substantive critique of development as ideology is shared and alternatives to it are
explored. Tus, Buen Vivir is a set of attempts to build other social and economic
orders that break free of the bounds imposed by Modernity.
A prov|s|ona| assessment
A provisional assessment of the debates about development is highly positive.
Te question of development is once again at the centre of many discussions; it is
reappearing in academia and in social movements, especially those in countries
with progressive governments which have recovered their critical independence.
Links are being made between academics and activists to address these questions,
and the contribution made by indigenous knowledge is nourishing an intense
process of renewal.

Te discussion about alternatives is not something that is taking place on the
sidelines instead it is moving centre stage; an example is the exploration of
post-extractivism, particularly in Ecuador and Peru. It is true that conventional
development continues to be present, moribund in some cases, being revitalised
in others, but many debates are no longer focusing on whether or not an
alternative horizon is valid. Instead, that need is accepted, and the question is to
determine whether the changes will take the form of development alternatives, or
alternatives to development.

Te issues being discussed here include age-old problems such as the role of the state
or the market, together with other, newer questions such as relational ontologies
or expanded forms of citizenship. Even traditional questions such as the roles of
the state or the market are now being addressed from new viewpoints. Tis is
leading, for example, to an acknowledgement of the diversity of markets present
in the region which are based on other rationales such as reciprocity or barter.
A clear trend is emerging whereby any alternative has to understand that
development cannot be limited to economic growth, and that goals focusing on
the quality of life and the protection of Nature are becoming key. Well-being is
not tied to a material or individual plane; instead it includes the collective and
spiritual dimension as well as the ecological dimension.
Te alternatives require profound changes in our relationship with Nature. Te
near future will be one of scarcity and austerity, and quality of life must therefore
be ensured within much narrower options for making use of Natures resources.
Te protection of biodiversity is now justifed from another ethical perspective,
as it is recognised to have rights of its own. Te alternatives in this direction
are biocentric and based upon doing away with the society/Nature duality
characteristic of European Modernity.
Intense debates are going on in the feld of ethics, as several alternatives challenge
conventional forms of valuation that assign value to something based on how it
can be used or traded (i.e., its price). Tis implies, frstly, a necessary renovation
of the economy and, secondly, accepting that there are other ways of assigning
value that go beyond such utilitarianism, including recognising the values (and,
therefore, the rights) intrinsic to Nature.
At the same time, and in diferent ways, the alternatives renounce the pretension
of western science and technology to solve all problems and explain all situations.
Manipulative and utilitarian rationalities are being abandoned, and uncertainty
and risk are being acknowledged.
Te debate about alternatives has always paid much attention to political actors,
their dynamics and institutional structures. Todays transformed debates are
generating new ways of addressing these questions, ranging from the leading
role assigned to previously subordinate actors (smallholder farmers, indigenous
people, the urban poor, women, etc.), to the necessary redefnition of concepts
such as citizenship and justice.
Tese and other factors are placing the restoration of other knowledge systems,
particularly those of Latin Americas indigenous peoples, at the centre of
attention. Te alternatives, whatever they may be, cannot emerge from a cultural
monologue; instead, an intercultural exchange must necessarily take place.
Likewise, a gender perspective must be included, and this cannot be thought of as
merely a pragmatic concession.
Tese attributes are what makes the idea of conventional development based
on utilitarianism the manipulation, usurping and separation of Nature
meaningless. One way or another, all of the alternatives break with the ideology
of progress, and thus take us to terrains beyond Modernity. Tis transition is
undoubtedly not simple, and neither does it mean breaking with elements from
the past that are valuable, but it shows what direction the changes need to take.
Te case of Buen Vivir exemplifes the vitality and potential of these initiatives.
From this perspective, the traditional political categories such as liberalism,
conservatism and socialism are insufcient to bring about alternatives to
development. In other words, the new changes must be both post-capitalist and
post-socialist, as they make a clean break with the ideology of progress.
1. Researcher at the Centro Latino Americano de Ecologa Social (CLAES), Montevideo,
Uruguay (; MSc in social ecology.
2. It is worth pointing out here that the ideas of Celso Furtado, mentioned in the
introduction, were also a critique of the environmental limits to growth.
3. Te feminist argument is analysed in more detail in the chapter Development
Critiques and Alternatives: A Feminist Perspective:, in this book.
4. Bob Jessop (1994), in Hollingsworth, Schmitte, Streeck, Governing Capitalist
Economies, (Oxford, OUP)
5. Examples of this were the Sustainable Southern Cone programme, which brought
together several NGOs from the Southern Cone, and the Sustainability 2025 programme
promoted by CLAES, which laid out strategies based on the strong and super-strong
sustainability options, to be implemented by 2025.
6. Tis group includes the governments of Nstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernndez
de Kirchner in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Lula da Silva and Dilma Roussef in
Brazil, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Tabar Vzquez and Jos Mujica in Uruguay, and Hugo
Chvez in Venezuela. Some would include the past administrations of Ricardo Lagos and
Michelle Bachelet in Chile in this group and, with greater reservations, the Fernando Lugo
government in Paraguay. Finally, the new Ollanta Humala administration in Peru will
surely be included in this group.
7. Vice-President lvaro Garca Linera rejected the indigenous peoples demands
because they would lead to the hydrocarbons industry grinding to a halt. He accused them
of seeking to prevent the payment of the Dignity Pension to 600,000 older people who
receive 200 bolivianos every month, as well as the Juancito Pinto beneft that goes to 1.8
million schoolchildren, since both programmes are funded from our exports of natural
gas. Tis is tantamount to blackmail, implying that all extractivism must be accepted as
justifed since it serves to tackle poverty. Statements in Pgina Siete, 20 September 2011, La
8. An example of this is President Rafael Correas call for Ecuadorians not to be beggars
sitting on top of a sack of gold, alluding to the argument that it would be foolish or
irresponsible not to take advantage of that wealth. Tis is the discourse he uses to promote
opencast mining. Statements in El Universo, 16 January 2009, Quito.
9. El Observador, 12 February 2010, Montevideo.
10. From the Foucauldian point of view, the category of ideology merges with that of
discourse, in the broad sense that is allocated to it, and operates within a power complex.
11. Tis conceptualisation is a working defnition for the purposes of this essay. It is
acknowledged that many diferent meanings have been assigned to the term modernity
(del Ro, 1997), and that it may take diferent specifc forms in diferent countries.
12. Te main theorists in this school of thought include Anbal Quijano from Peru (2000)
and Walter Mignolo from Argentina (2007); see also the excellent review by Restrepo and
Rojas (2010).
13. Conviviality is understood to be the opposite of industrial productivity. Industrial
relations are a conditioned refex, the individuals stereotyped response to the messages
broadcast by another user who he/she will never meet except through an artifcial medium
he/she will never understand. Convivial relations, in contrast, are those engaged in by
people who participate in creating social life. Shifing from productivity to conviviality
means replacing technical values with ethical values, material values with non-material
values (Illich, 2006).
14. Te strand of sustainable development characterised by rejecting the reductionism of
the concept of natural capital, and using the category of patrimony in its place. It maintains
that there are multiple ways of valuing the environment, it accepts the values intrinsic to
nature, and its approach is participatory, among other aspects.
15. A stance defended by deep ecology based on Natures own values and life as a value in
16. A school of thought and environmental activism put forward by A. Nss (1989).
17. One example is the setting up of the Latin American Critical Development Studies
Alliance. See <>.